I met someone I really like a few months ago. He is really great and one of the best people I have ever dated in a lot of ways, but he seems to get really weird whenever I use the word “fat” in reference to myself. I like that word and it is important to me to reclaim that word. Whenever I say it, he insists that I am not fat or that I am not “really” fat. There was a time in my life when I would have taken that as a compliment, but now it kind of offends me. I don’t know what to tell him, though, because I know he thinks he’s being nice.
Oh, I know this scenario all too well!
I dated a lot of men who said things like this for a long time. And I, too, at one time had so much internalized fat shame that I experienced these kinds of sentiments as a compliment or a sign of affection. Because this is what we are taught. We are taught that fat people are axiomatically unattractive, and so if someone is attracted to us, then it would follow that we cannot also be fat. Likewise, people have been taught the Eschewing Fat Script (“I am fat.” “No you’re not. You are beautiful.”).
There are probably a few things happening.
First, maybe your new partner feels some mild (or maybe even moderate?) discomfort with your identification with fatness because (1) it indicates you are likely not trying to change your body, which is something fat people are culturally expected to do, (2) it is a political act to claim your fat body and (3) it means he is actually for real dating a fat person (not a “chubby” or a “curvy” person), and that comes with stigma.
I know in my own dating experience I was dating men who were committed to the idea of me as some kind of curvy voluptuous busty babe and they wanted to control the way I thought about my body because their ego was tied up in the language I used to describe myself. Totes inappropes on their part!
I think it is entirely possible he hasn’t parsed through these feelings and may not even know he is unconsciously enacting his own internalized stuff. Likewise he may legit have never dated anyone who’s all about being fat, and consequently he is just on autopilot with the “You’re not fat” line because that’s what his former partners have expected from him.
Regardless of the reason, you have the right to be offended or annoyed. At the end of the day, he doesn’t need to “like” your identity. It’s his job as your boo to accept it. I would talk to him before getting more escalated though. Maybe it’s a simple two-minute talk that starts with, “Maybe other people you’ve dated have expected that from you, but I don’t expect it and I don’t want you to do it anymore. Here’s why this is important to me … “
There is a good chance he’ll totally get it right away, and if he pushes back, then consider asking him to own his discomfort rather than expecting you to do that work.
Hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers in the areas of fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp. Follow her Instragram @virgietovar.